Romantic relationships are complicated, but we cannot stay without them. Why are they difficult? What are the reasons why so many couples experience relational issues? First of all, the invasion of spaces.

A decisive factor that causes relationship problems is the invasion of spaces. I have often observed this factor during my counselling work with couples. Indeed, it appears to be one of the main features affecting the relational patterns; a belief also supported by international empirical and theoretical evidence. Sharing a space can be difficult, especially if we perceive that the Other is trespassing our vital space. What causes the main problem, however, is not the invasion of physical space but rather that we perceive as being an intrusion into our psychic space. Indeed, being in a relationship means having our own reality invaded by thoughts, ideas, desires and values of others, which, as much legitimate they may be, they represent nonetheless an invasion. If they are very different from ours, then, they can become annoying and at times even deeply disturbing. The Other is challenging our narcissistic side that does not want to be confronted nor is prepared to accept the Other’s truth as being as valid as its own. The awareness of this narcissistic stance if confronted and talked through, however, can lead to a big psychological achievement. Some couples avoid this challenge by entering a ‘projective gridlock’, where the two identities are fused in one: the couple identity. We can notice this gridlock in couples that constantly use Us instead of I, or in partners who are almost always in agreement.  Usually partners in this type of relationship, sooner or later become claustrophobic, at least one of them, who feels a loss of a sense of own identity. It often occurs that when one of the partners tries to regain their own individuality, the other feels so unsettled to the point of panicking.

Do you think you are in a ‘projective gridlock’ and feel that your relationship is suffering from it?

If the answer is positive, then it is already a big step forward, because you are aware of it. Not always we are able to act upon and integrate our whole being. This is why the presence of the Other in a couple, can be a good opportunity for integrating many parts of our personality, even those of the Other that we perceive as annoying or disturbing. Indeed, we often are attracted by partners, whose personal traits we are not familiar to, because we are lacking of or missing them. Therefore, it can be important to integrate them into our being, to become a fuller person. This integration can lead to growth, both for the individual and for the relationship. This process is enriching as well as complicated, and can surely be facilitated by a professional expert in couple counselling.

Article adapted from <


  • Fisher JV. (1999). The uninvited guest: emerging from narcissism to marriage. London: Karnac.
  • Morgan M. (1995). The projective gridlock: a form of projective identification in couple relationships. In: Ruszczynski SR, Fisher J (eds). Intrusiveness and intimacy in the couple. London: Karnac Books; 33-48.

Ogden TH. (1979). On projective identification. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. Vol. 60: 357–373.